Written by Philip Mauro (1859-1952)
THE TRUE WITNESS
We come lastly to John’s account, where facts are mentioned which will help us comprehend the positive and uncompromising judgment of Pilate that the Lord was wholly innocent of any word or act contrary to the rule and authority of Caesar.
One peculiarity about this strange judicial proceeding which is clearly brought out in John’s Gospel is this, namely that the Jews, who brought accusation against the Lord Jesus, would not themselves go into the Praetorium (the Roman judgment hall) lest they be defiled and hence be debarred from keeping the Passover (John 18: 28).
For that reason Pilate must need, go forth to them in order to hear their accusation, and then go into the Praetorium and question Christ concerning the things alleged against Him. We learn also from John’s account that when Pilate first went out to the people he proposed that the Jews should try Him according to their own law; but they objected to that for the express reason that it was not permitted to them to put anyone to death (v. 31). Thereupon Pilate entered again the palace of judgment and put to Christ the question which is recorded in each of the Gospels, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” (v. 33). From John, however, we learn the significant fact that Christ did not immediately reply to this question, but demanded to know of Pilate whether he had made that inquiry of himself, or whether others had brought the accusation against Him. This question asked by the Lord of Pilate is significant. According to Roman law a prisoner, specialty if charged with a capital crime such as sedition against the constituted government was entitled to be tried on a formal and precise statement (or “indictment”), setting forth the particulars of his alleged offence and to be confronted by the witnesses on whose testimony he was charged. Festus said to Agrippa, “It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face and have license to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him” (Acts 25: 16).
Thus the simple question put by the Lord brought sharply to Pilate’s notice a fact which, according to Roman law, should have thrown the case out of court, namely that there were not witnesses to His alleged seditious conduct, even it there had been any definite charges lodged against Him. All Pilate could say in reply to this pointed question was, “Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me. What hast thou done?” Various indications are given of what passed through Pilate’s mind on that occasion. That the charge of sedition was wholly unsupported by proof must have been quickly apparent. Then the extraordinary message which Pilate’s wife sent to him must have influenced his mind greatly; and finally there can be no doubt that the Lord’s word, and manner made a deep impression upon the Roman governor. The bearing of an honest witness always impresses those who have had judicial training and experience; and in this case it was the True Witness Himself witnessing before Pontius Pilate a good confession (I Tim. 6: 13). It is certain, at any rate, that, before Pilate came to the end of the case, “he knew that for envy they had delivered Him,” and not for any crime against the State (Matthew 27: 18).
So we must reach the point where Pilate listened to the Lord’s own testimony as to the character of the Kingdom He had proclaimed. It is recorded in these words, which are clear and decisive “Jesus answered, ‘My Kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight that I should not be delivered up to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from hence’” (John 18: 36).
The words “of this world:” twice repeated, signify the source or origin of the kingdom referred to. The preposition here rendered ‘of’ (ek) means “from” or “out of.” And we are bound to understand otherwise we could impute guile and insincerity to the Lord, that when He said, “My Kingdom” He meant that kingdom which had been proclaimed publicly by Himself, by His apostles, and by John the Baptist. This testimony from the True Witness does away with the strange idea that He (and His servants) had announced two (some of our expositors say three) different kingdoms — as different in character as the earthly rule of an earthly monarch like David or Caesar, and a kingdom purely spiritual and heavenly. There never was, from “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1: 1-3), but one Kingdom in view; and that was and is the very same Kingdom concerning which our Lord testified before Pilate saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
These words clear away (or should do so for all who receive His testimony) the idea that earthly dominion was, at anytime or in any sense, embraced within the scope of the Lord’s mission at His first coming. Certainly it convinced Pilate, however unconvincingly it may be to some modern Bible teachers. For Pilate, after his interrogation of the Lord went forth again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no fault in this man” (v. 38). This decision he pronounced in the light also of the further words of Christ recorded in verse 37: “Thou sayest that I am a King. To this end was I born” (i.e. to the end that He might be a king) “and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.”
He was born a King indeed, and “the King of the Jews”, too (Matthew 2:2); but not to set up at that time a kingdom which would conflict with the rule of Caesar, much less a kingdom that would supplant it. Such was the decision reached by Caesar’s representative, and such became the final judgment never reversed and so far as the present writer is informed never disputed, until called in question by certain Bible expositors of our time. From that day onward not even the enemies of Christ have ever claimed that He had sought or proposed either directly or indirectly, to set up the earthly throne of David until within recent years that baseless charge has been revived and given to the Lord’s people as “new light:” derived by a process of a “rightly dividing the word of truth.” It is an amazing thing.
We believe the question we are discussing will be definitely and finally settled for many who have been greatly perplexed by it, when they see by the Scriptures that Pilate’s judgment, acquitting the Lord of any act or word tending to the overthrow of Caesar’s kingdom, was based on the Lord’s own testimony. Pilate’s judgment of acquittal would, of course, have been erroneous, unjust, and contrary to truth, had it been the fact that the Lord at any time offered the earthly Kingdom to the Jewish people, or presented Himself to them as their earthly king,or authorized others to do so. But in that case, can anyone who loves Him harbour the thought that He would have denied the accusation or even have permitted Pilate to pronounce Him innocent of that which He had in fact done?
The case, therefore, in the last analysis, comes to a point where one who forms an opinion about it must either conclude that the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of heaven) which the Lord announced as “at hand,” was not the earthly kingdom which the Jews desired, or that Pilate, in the judgment rendered by him, was misled by the Lord’s own testimony, that being the only evidence before him. Let the reader therefore ask himself this question: “Did Pilate in fact commit a judicial error when he pronounced Jesus Christ guiltless upon His own testimony — that being the only evidence in the case?”
That Pilate clearly understood the issue presented to him admits of no doubt whatever. The accusation related to the setting up of a claim to an earthly kingdom, and Pilate was convinced that Christ had not spoken of a kingdom of that sort. This further appears by the fact that when Pilate, after having acquitted the Lord Jesus, sought to release Him, the Jews cried out, saying: “If thou let this man go thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a King speaketh against Caesar” (John 19: 12). That would have been quite true if an earthly King and an earthly kingdom had been in question. But the truth is, and Pilate was forced to decree and publish it, that Christ had never spoken of an earthly kingdom, but solely of a heavenly kingdom — a kingdom “NOT OF THIS WORLD.”
And finally, when Pilate said unto them, “Shall I crucify your King?” the chief priests, answering for the nation, said: “We have no king but Caesar.” The issue, therefore, which Pilate decided was perfectly clear.